This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 1 Episode 5
There’s a lot crammed into this week’s episode of The Magicians, but the story is making definite progress with the mystery surrounding The Beast deepening and several of the characters taking on more complexity. Earlier misgivings, such as the lack of adult guidance and clear competence, have been laid to rest, and the show is really starting to distinguish itself as a fantasy that eschews conventional approaches to magic. As Eliot says to Quentin when he receives a mentor more interested in podiatry than wizardry, “This isn’t Middle Earth, Quentin. There aren’t enough noble quests to go around.”
The mentors themselves added a much needed feeling of expertise that has been missing from Brakebills, and the casting of Denise Crosby of Star Trek and M.C. Gainey of Lost added a certain amount of “geek cred” to the show. Gainey especially excelled as Penny’s mentor, warning him of the dangers of traveling and encouraging him to get a tattoo to hobble his powers. Kady, to her credit, instead encourages Penny to stretch his wings, but it’s undeniably fortunate that Penny’s encounter with The Beast was not in the flesh.
The mysterious prisoner, Victoria, was apparently also a traveler and a member of the missing third-year class, and the revelation that she and the moth-man may actually be in Fillory is an interesting twist. While not a complete surprise given what we’ve seen of Quentin’s conversations with Jane Chatwin, the prospect of the band of young magicians going beyond the world of Brakebills is an exciting proposition.
In fact, having Quentin’s father mention Fillory as he scolds his son’s childish ways was a nice way to remind viewers about the world from the books before the big reveal. Mr. Coldwater’s ordeal with cancer also pushed home the idea that magic cannot fix everything, much to Quentin’s chagrin. As Margo spells out for him, “Magic doesn’t come from sunshine and ice cream for any of us.” Quentin’s mentor even surmises that cancer itself may be an old curse that can’t be broken.
Nevertheless, Quentin’s display of power in the game of “welters” distinctly shows that acute suffering can magnify the effects of magic. If this is true, he and Julia may have a head start on the others. Julia’s exile is made all the more painful when she discovers that other hedge witch groups are rank amateurs compared to Marina’s cell. It wouldn’t be surprising if Julia pulled some massive spells out of her anguish just like Quentin, especially with James’ erased memory making her even more alone.
Although this episode was successful overall, there were some strange moments, such as Eliot and Margo fighting over the attention of Alice’s aunt, Genji, who supposedly runs a sought-after magical retreat. Perhaps their motivation will become clear in time, but Crosby’s Genji seemed only to persuade Alice to return from self-imposed expulsion. Eliot and Margo are fun characters (especially when Margo admits “I like ruining things”), but sometimes their actions seem out of rhythm with the rest of the story.
Speaking of Alice, between Fogg’s admission that he kept her from the entrance exam and Quentin’s touching moment when they became lab partners, her revised outlook on Brakebills is a welcome change for her character in the wake of the storyline with her brother. The prospect of her and Quentin becoming closer is a nice idea that deserves exploration.
Bonus points to this episode for making skillful pop culture references not only to Middle Earth as mentioned earlier but also to “Game of Thrones fan art,” as Kady describes the crest of Ember from the Fillory books, and even Penny admitting “I don’t watch Star Trek,” when his mentor mentions astral projection – a nice touch considering Crosby’s guest spot. The Magicians is coming into its own with a really enjoyable episode this week; here’s hoping for more of the same in the second half of the season.